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Black Lives Matter and the Struggle for Freedom

In late April 2016, at a town hall-style event in London, President Obama complained about the rising movement against the state-sanctioned murder of black people often referred to as Black Lives Matter. Activists, he admonished, should “stop yelling” and instead push for incremental change through the official “process.”… The spectacle of the first black president scolding black activists in the context of a rising rate of police murder (as of this writing, the police have killed 630 individuals, at least 155 of them black, nationwide in 2016) speaks volumes about the state of black politics today.… For those trying to understand the emergence of a new black movement—or, perhaps more accurately, a new phase of a longer, older movement—on the watch of the first black president, Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor’s new book, From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation is an essential starting point.… | more…

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The Anthropocene Crisis

The Anthropocene, viewed as a new geological epoch displacing the Holocene epoch of the last 10,000 to 12,000 years, represents what has been called an “anthropogenic rift” in the history of the planet.… Recent scientific evidence suggests that the period from around 1950 on exhibits a major spike, marking a Great Acceleration in human impacts on the environment, with the most dramatic stratigraphic trace of the anthropogenic rift to be found in fallout radionuclides from nuclear weapons testing.… Viewed in this way, the Anthropocene can be seen as corresponding roughly to the rise of the modern environmental movement, which had its beginnings in the protests led by scientists against above-ground nuclear testing after the Second World War, and was to emerge as a wider movement following the publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring in 1962. Carson’s book was soon followed in the 1960s by the very first warnings, by Soviet and U.S. scientists, of accelerated and irreversible global warming. It is this dialectical interrelation between the acceleration into the Anthropocene and the acceleration of a radical environmentalist imperative in response that constitutes the central theme of Ian Angus’s marvelous new book.… | more…

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Against Trophy Hunting

Contemporary North Americans hunt wildlife for a variety of reasons, whether to attain game meat, spend time with family and friends, or take part in a form of outdoor recreation. My focus here will be on…trophy hunting…[—]killing wildlife to enhance one’s status by appropriating the body parts of dead animals for display as trophies, ostensible evidence of hunting skills.… In the United States, trophy hunting organizations, such as Safari Club International and Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife, claim to promote and defend two allegedly deeply rooted Western traditions: The popular practice of “common people” hunting, and the role that hunters and hunting organizations have played in protecting wilderness and wildlife.… These claims perpetuate a mythologized version of the history of Euro-American hunting. Contrary to their image as “true conservationists,” many trophy hunting organizations have promoted policies and activities with adverse social consequences, contributing to the environmental degradation they claim to oppose.… | more…

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From Primitive to Substantive Equality—via Slavery

Unlike materially grounded and strictly determined primitive equality, the realization of universally shared substantive equality is feasible only at a highly developed level of social/economic advancement that must be combined with the consciously pursued non-hierarchical (and thereby non-antagonistic) regulation of a historically sustainable social reproductive metabolism. That would be a radically different social metabolism, in contrast to all phases of historical development hitherto—including of course the spontaneous primitive equality of the distant past rooted in the grave material constraints of directly imposed natural necessity and struggle for survival.… “Materiality” of that kind, despite its unquestionable substantiveness, as linked to the corresponding hemmed-in “spontaneity,” is obviously not enough in order to achieve historical sustainability.… The requirement of materiality, in the case of the human being whose fundamental existential substratum is objectively determined nature, is essential. The seminal condition of materiality with regard to equality can be swept aside or wished out of existence—as a rule in a revealingly discriminatory and class-bound self-serving way—only by some idealist philosophical conception; one that predicates the commendability of some kind of equality (e.g., “in the eyes of God” or “before the Law”) and at the same time denies the realizability of materially embodied substantive equality, in its defense of a most iniquitous social order.… | more…

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In the boredroom

Marge Piercy is the author of nineteen books of poetry, most recently Made in Detroit (Knopf, 2015). Her first short story collection, The Cost of Lunch, Etc., was published in 2014 by PM Press.… | more…

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Imperialism and Class in the Arab World

Ali Kadri, Arab Development Denied (London: Anthem, 2014), 250 pages, $40, paperback.

Perhaps nowhere does violence collapse the horizon as it does in the Arab world. Imperial wars have demolished the Libyan state and turned Syria into a charnel house. Yemen, the region’s poorest country, was a U.S. drone shooting gallery before Saudi Arabia…attacked it, sending it spiraling into famine. Iraq shudders under ISIS’s car bombs after decades of wars and sanctions. And Palestine continues to bleed and resist under the weight of Israeli settler-colonialism.… Why so much violence? The academic mercenaries of counterinsurgency studies fixate on terrorism as a response to material grievance, and Western war as the response. Others ascribe the region’s underdevelopment to a mix of institutional inadequacy and democratic deficits, remediable by the application of U.S. power.… Against this tableau, Ali Kadri in Arab Development Denied offers a coruscatingly intelligent account of how the United States has denied Arab development. Through wars, colonialism, and sanctions, it has sought for decades to prevent working-class sovereignty in the region.… | more…

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Monthly Review Volume 68, Number 3 (July-August 2016)

July 2016 (Volume 68, Number 3)

Commenting in the January 1973 issue of Monthly Review on the declining condition of the U.S. economy, Paul Sweezy brought back the question of “secular stagnation,” first advanced by Keynes’s leading follower Alvin Hansen in the late 1930s. “The U.S. economy,” Sweezy wrote, in an article entitled “Notes on the U.S. Situation at the End of 1972,” “is experiencing at one and the same time a cyclical boom and secular stagnation.” The resurfacing of stagnation, he suggested, was the product in part of the U.S. attempt to unwind from the Vietnam War, which had previously been lifting the economy.… A couple of months after the publication of Sweezy’s article, in March 1973, the New York Times, seeking to quiet the widening anti-capitalist protests, ran a series of articles on its op-ed page under the general heading of “Capitalism, for Better or Worse.” The series concentrated on the two phenomena of the weakening of economic prosperity and the decline of military spending resulting from the drawing down of the Vietnam War. One of these articles, misleadingly entitled “Taking Stock of War,” appearing on March 14, was written by Paul Samuelson, then considered to be the leading neoclassical economist in the United States. … | more…

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Monopoly Capital at the Half-Century Mark

A half-century after its publication, Paul Baran and Paul Sweezy’s Monopoly Capital remains the single most influential work in Marxian political economy to emerge in the United States.… In recent years, interest in Baran and Sweezy’s magnum opus has revived, primarily for two reasons: (1) the global resurgence of debates over the constellation of issues that their work addressed—including economic stagnation, monopoly, inequality, militarism and imperialism, multinational corporations, economic waste, surplus capital absorption, financial speculation, and plutocracy; and (2) the new, fundamental insights into the book’s origins resulting from the publication of its two missing chapters and the public release of Baran and Sweezy’s correspondence.… I shall divide this introduction on the influence and development of the argument of Monopoly Capital over the last fifty years into three parts: (1) a brief treatment of the book itself and its historical context; (2) a discussion of responses to Monopoly Capital, and of the development of the tradition that it represented, during its first four decades, up to the Great Financial Crisis that began in 2007; and (3) an assessment of the continuing significance of monopoly capital theory in the context of the historical period stretching from the Great Financial Crisis to the present.… | more…

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Monopoly Capital Then and Now

Monopoly Capital had an outstanding impact on students of my generation. It was published just as the Vietnam War was heating up, when students and youth throughout the world were beginning to “contest the structures”—to use a favorite expression of that time—and were eagerly looking for analyses of these “structures.” Monopoly Capital, written jointly by two renowned Marxist economists, each of whom had already authored a classic, provided just that. It was avidly read in progressive circles around the world.… For students of economics like myself, there was an additional reason for its impact. Economic literature from both the Communist world and from Communist writers in the West tended to underplay the problem of aggregate demand. While Marx had been a trenchant critic of Say’s Law and had highlighted the demand problem, it was by this time seen at most as a problem underlying periodic crises, but not one that could affect capitalism in a secular sense, ex ante.… | more…

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Kalecki and Steindl in the Transition to Monopoly Capital

Paul Baran and Paul Sweezy’s Monopoly Capital is a classic that has long outlived the conjuncture in American capitalism that it described. In a deep and scholarly way, its authors exposed the deep structure of that capitalism, which determined the dynamics of the system and therefore those “surface” phenomena of unemployment and poverty—symptoms not of any functional malaise in capitalism (the “market failures” beloved by academic economists), but of the very way in which modern capitalism works. The authors of the book may therefore be forgiven for providing only the lightest sketch of the ideas and theories they used in their analysis. In this essay, I try to uncover some of those ideas and theories to show how they represent a shift from the analysis in Sweezy’s earlier work the Theory of Capitalist Development, and how the two books are linked to the ideas of Karl Marx in a way that can only be understood through the work of Michał Kalecki and Josef Steindl. Baran and Sweezy knew and admired Kalecki and Steindl and, as I will try to show, continued what might be called Marx’s “project” very much in their spirit.… | more…

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The Profits of Financialization

The financialization of capitalism has been marked by the sustained rise of financial profits. In the United States, financial profits as a proportion of total profits rose enormously from the early 1980s to the early 2000s, collapsed during 2007–09, and subsequently recovered, but without reaching previous heights. During this period, the trend of the average rate of profit has been largely flat. The relative rise of financial profits in spite of stagnant average profitability represents a theoretical and empirical conundrum. We will argue that the answer should be sought partly in financial expropriation, but also in public interest rates kept at extraordinarily low levels. In this light, the rise of financial profits represents a vast public subsidy to the financial system characteristic of financialization.… | more…

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